The Peril and Opportunity of Riches (Matthew Sermon 92 of 151)
March 15, 2009 | Andrew Davis
Money and Possessions
The Rich Young Ruler: The Perfect “Seeker”?
The “Perfect Seeker”
Well, he was, it seems the perfect seeker, he was rich. Verse 22 said he had great wealth, think of all the ways he could use that money for the kingdom, all those poor people that he could help, all the missionaries he could support, all the church plants that he could sponsor.
He was young. Verse 22 again, says the young man, so there he was, he was young. He had all of his years ahead of him, so it seemed, all his time to spend on the kingdom, all that youthful zeal and energy and enthusiasm and idealism, vision for the kingdom. Just think of all that he could do in the years to come, for Christ.
He was a ruler. Luke 18:18 says, a certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” So he had a position of influence the Greek implies, he was a government official of some sort. Just think of how he could use that influence to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to shape and mold the future direction of the country.
He was pious, he was deeply concerned about his soul, he said he had kept all the commandments of God from his childhood. Clearly, someone for whom religion and religious issues were paramount, he was in some sense humble, he recognized that there was something missing in his life, he wasn't satisfied with his life or his piety. Verse 16, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Verse 20, “All these I have kept,” the young man said, “What do I still lack?” So there was a certain measure of humility in recognizing that he lacked something, he was on the outside looking in.
Usually a rich, young powerful man, like this feels he has the world by the tail. Whole life ahead of him, just like that, Rich Fool in Jesus' parable, who said to himself, “Self, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years, take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.” That wasn't this man's attitude. This man knew himself enough to know better. And he was highly interested in Jesus, he sought him out, he was looking for Jesus. It's not easy to get to Christ back in those days, constantly surrounded by a huge multitude of people. Rich, young ruler tracked him down, presented himself to him. He was seeking Jesus, Jesus didn't need to seek him out.
He was respectful, even somewhat worshipful towards Jesus. In Mark 10:17, it says, “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. Good Teacher,” he said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” So he's falling on his knees before Jesus respectful, very respectful for Jesus. And he was eager it seemed for eternal life. “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Eternal life is not usually a thought in a young man's heart, but his future condition was of great importance to him.
Jesus: A Failed Evangelist?
So in all of these ways, and perhaps some others, he seemed to have been the perfect seeker, what happened? He walked away sad. Did Jesus, the great physician of the soul, botch the case? If Jesus were a trainee in some of the evangelism seminars, I've been to, they would have come to that conclusion. You don't do this to this kind of a seeker, especially a rich one. You don't want them walking away sad, you do everything you can to draw them in. One might say, “Look at this prime candidate, for the Kingdom of God and look how you blew it. He came to you eager for the Kingdom of God and you sent him away miserable. What were you thinking?”
Randy Alcorn put it this way: “We would certainly handle the situation differently than Jesus did. First, we would probably commend the rich young ruler for his interest in spiritual things. Then we might tell him ‘Just believe, that's all. Just ask God into your heart. You don't really have to do anything.’ When he said, ‘Okay, I believe,’ which no doubt he would since it cost him nothing. We would have considered him from that moment forward a follower of Jesus Christ. Think how blessed we would feel knowing that God's Kingdom was greatly enhanced by the conversion of this well-known and wealthy man. Soon there would be articles and books about him. He'd be on TV and radio talk shows, he'd be put on mission and church boards, speak at rallies, he'd receive invitations to share his testimony at churches and conferences across the country likely making him a richer young ruler. … Notice that Jesus didn't tell the young man to give 10% to the poor. (If he was a law-abiding Jew, he already did that.) Neither did Jesus say ‘Set up a trust fund, keep the principal intact, and give the interest to the poor.’ The young man would gladly have done that. Instead, Jesus stopped him dead in his tracks by telling him to give up everything and follow him.”
Well, the end results of this encounter was that this prime candidate, so to speak, walked away from Jesus sad, he came to Jesus all filled with enthusiasm and Jesus squashed him with a request that very few people in history could have measured up to. But let's remember something about Jesus Christ, shall we? He is God in the flesh, therefore he is omniscient, he doesn't look at the outward appearance of things, he looks at a man's heart, he is unerring in his ways, everything he does is right, and he is able to peer into the heart of a man and understand what that man needs.
Says in John 2, when Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, “many people saw the miraculous signs he did and believed in his name, but Jesus would not entrust himself to them for He knew all men. He did not need anyone to tell him about a man because He knew what was in a man.” And so Jesus supernaturally read this rich young rulers heart, and diagnosed his spiritual condition and his spiritual need. He needed an idolectomy, he needed a deadly idol cut out and removed from his heart. For those of you that are not medically trained like me. He needed the idol cut out and removed. And what was that idol? That idol was materialism, the idol was money.
Probing the Young Man’s Heart
The Rich Young Ruler’s Question
And Jesus knew it, and so, He probed this young man's heart. The rich young ruler’s question was this in verse 16: “Now, a man came up to Jesus and asked ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’” Putting together the full account from Mark and Luke, this question is full of the word good actually. Mark 10:17, “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him, fell on His knees before him. ‘Good teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?’” So the man says both “good teacher” and what “good work” must I do to get eternal life.
So the question is filled with the idea of goodness. But the question shows a fundamental flaw in this man's thinking. He clearly believes as we shall see, that he is not far from the Kingdom of Heaven and just needs one good work to put him over the top. He thinks all it's gonna take is some significant deed, some act of love or something like that, some heroic act of obedience, and he will be good for the kingdom of heaven. Check that box and we'll be fine.
Now, the fullness of Scripture teaches that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. “There is no one righteous, not even one, no one who understands, no one who seeks God, all have turned away.” And the Bible tells us that our sins cannot be atoned for apart from the shedding of blood, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. We cannot use our good deeds to pay for our sins for two reasons. First, we don't have any, we'll get to that in a moment. And second of all, we can't do it any more than a murderer on trial for his life for a crime he admits to committing can exchange a promise or pledge of future good deeds or even evidence of past good deeds to pay for that crime. They are irrelevant. And this rich, young ruler as I just said a moment ago, doesn't seem to understand how sinful he is.
For it says in Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean and all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” So this man's understanding of eternal life and of salvation is seriously fundamentally flawed. It's also very popular to what many of us think. What good thing must I do to get eternal life? He didn't think he was sinful, he thought obtaining eternal life was simple. Just add some good work, and there it is.
Jesus’ Significant Rebuttal Question
So Jesus asks him a significant question. “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good.” We who dwell here on earth cannot begin to fathom the depth of this answer. We have a hard time believing what Jesus is really saying here. We creatures are good only by having something added to our nature. God alone is goodness itself. Our goodness is like a drop. His goodness a vast and, I say, infinite ocean of goodness. He is good in his essence, he is eternally and immutably good, he is infinitely good without a shadow of evil in his character whatsoever. Closely related to the idea of His goodness is His holiness.
Only the Scriptures can give us a sense of the perfect holiness of God. Revelation 15:4, up there in heaven this is what they say, “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and who will not bring glory to your name for you alone are holy.” Scripture presents the infinite, the perfect holiness of God, with generally two metaphors: that of elevation or height and that of fire or brightness. God is elevated high and lofty, exalted separated from all creation. Isaiah 57:15 says, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place.’” Isaiah 6:1, “I saw the Lord on a throne, high and exalted.” Isaiah 40:22 says, “He sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth, and all its people are before him like grasshoppers.” Psalm 97:9 says, “For you, O Lord, are the Most High over all the earth, you're exalted far above all gods.”
And so we see elevation, infinite separation between God and His physical creation. God also is portrayed as bright, burning light. Exodus 24:17, “Now, the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.” Deuteronomy 4:24 says, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
Now, this brightness of God's glorious holiness is augmented by the fact that no one can look at it and survive, even the seraphim of Isaiah 6, say they cover their faces. God told Moses “No one can see me and live.” Paul said that God “dwells in unapproachable light,” and because we don't have a right sense of this great holiness and loftiness and exaltation and light of God, we don't have a right sense of the perfection it takes to be in His presence, and how completely defiled we are in sin. And so Jesus starts right there. Why do you ask me about what is good? In effect you're throwing the word "good" around and you don't know what you're talking about. “There is only one who is good.”
Mark 10:18, “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus says. ‘No one is good -- except God alone.’” Do you know what goodness is? Do you know who God is? Do you know who I am? Do you know who you are? That's what he's getting at right at the beginning. The core problem this man has is he's deeply sinful and has greatly, greatly underestimated the holiness of God. We'll all find out on Judgment Day. We'll all find out how exalted and holy and pure he is, but it'll be too late then, for salvation. We need to know now by faith, how exalted and holy he is. Oh, that my words might give you a vision of that if you've never trusted Christ. That you might have a vision of just how high and lofty and holy he is and how you are completely unfit to stand before him without Jesus's help, without his righteousness imputed to you you will not survive the encounter.
And even deeper this man didn't know who Jesus was. Why do you call me good? Don't you know that no one is good but God alone, do you understand who I am? Don't just come and call me good teacher. Jesus was ironically the only good man that ever lived, in this sense, the only perfectly good man that ever lived.
Jesus Strangely Hands Him the Law
And this rich, young ruler was standing in the presence of perfect goodness, and so Jesus, in a perfectly good way deals with this man's problem, and he does it by handing him the law of all things. What a strange moment in evangelistic history. If you want to enter life obey the commandments. Wait a minute, I know what you'll say. Romans hadn't been written yet, he didn't know that there's no one justified by works.
Oh, he knew. Well, what is he doing? This is standard Judaism, it's all it is. Leviticus 18:5, “Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them, I am the Lord.” However truly broken-hearted Jews like David, for example, in Psalm 51, knew that the obedience of the law was impossible for him. And he needed forgiveness from God. Paul knew this righteousness by the law well, he'd spent his whole life trying to attain it and never could, he found it impossible. And so he wrote in Romans 3:24, “By the works of the law, no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Peter was the same, he called the law, in Acts 15:10, “a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear.”
Simple reason, let's put it this way, present and future obedience cannot pay for past disobedience. You can't exchange the two. And we have all disobeyed. Christ knew better than any human being alive that no righteousness by the law could save our souls, that's why he entered the world, that's why he would go to the cross, he knew better than anyone that the law cannot save that's why he was there, for it says in Galatians 2:21, “If righteousness could be gained by the law, Christ died for nothing.”
Oh he knew. So why did he say it, if you want to enter life obey the commandments. Well, he's exposing the man's self-righteousness, he's exposing the man's independence, he's exposing the man's sin.
The Young Man’s Self-Righteousness Emerges
And so look what the rich young man says, “If you want to enter life obey the commandments,” verse 18, “‘Which ones?’ the man inquired, and Jesus replied, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Alright, so the man begins by seeking to justify himself by asking which of the commands did God have in mind? Well, obviously this is off base since the same God has given all the commandments, the same God has said, “You shall not murder,” also said, “You shall not commit adultery.” If you do not commit murder, but you do commit adultery, you've broken the law. James tells us that. And yet, for all of that, Jesus just goes right along in the conversation and complies by giving him a truncated list of God's commands. Five of the 10 Commandments, all of them horizontal dealing with human beings, other human beings. And then the summation of all that, the second great commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Amazingly, this rich, young ruler felt no twinge of conscience whatsoever when he heard these laws. None. “‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said, ‘from my youth,’” Mark 10:20.
Oh, the blindness of sin. It's what causes me to tremble as I preach today. Let me cut to the point. I think all of a struggle with idolatry, every one of us here, perhaps even with materialism, just like this man, and we are blind to it, we don't see our own sin in the matter, we think it's the other guy, it's the rich young ruler, it's not me. Can you really say you don't struggle with idolatry, you have no idols in your heart, you don't struggle with money, material possessions? The blindness of sin. Did this man perfectly obey all of these laws, all of them from his youth, every one of them? He loved his neighbor as himself every moment of his life, he honored his father and mother?
Let's bring mom and dad in and ask, how has it gone with rich young ruler? Has he perfectly obeyed this commandment? Well, there were some moments that it wasn't the best, but he's a good boy. Alright, we'll get to good later with mom and dad. That's a whole other discussion.
Had this man's heart really been so pure, so free from sin, so perfect. Oh, what a shock will Judgment Day be for multitudes upon multitudes gathered in the valley for judgment. Oh, how shocking it will be to find out what the standard really was. When I evangelize and I tell them... Jesus commentary on the law. “You've heard that it was said ‘You shall not murder,’ but I tell you, if you were even angry at your brother, you're in danger of the fire of hell. And you've heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but if I tell... I tell you, that if you even look at a woman lustfully, you've committed adultery in your heart.” People will think that wasn't on the test. It's an unfair question, but this is the standard of perfection, and holiness. And yet, the man says “All these I have kept. what do I still lack?”
Challenging the Young Man’s Idolatry
And so Jesus goes now to the heart of the matter. Look at verse 21, “Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, Go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me.’”
Christ Drives the Stake Through His Pride
Jesus drives a stake right through the man's pride. The goal is perfection. Do you wish to be perfect? Do you want to be perfect? We learn in the Sermon on the Mount that you must be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. If you're not perfect, you will not go to Heaven. You can't spend eternity in the presence of such a Holy God, and not be perfect. Do you want to be perfect? Well then, this is the path for perfection for you. Even if he had kept all the horizontal laws dealing with other human beings, there was still the vertical component of his relationship with God, and now, Jesus goes to that issue right away.
The root issue here is idolatry, in Exodus 20:2-5, “I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, You shall have no other gods before Me, you shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above, or the earth beneath, or the waters below you shall not bow down to them or worship them for I the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.” And Colossians 3 in verse 5 identifies greed as idolatry.
The Basic Issue of Life: Whom Will You Worship, Whom Will You Serve?
So the basic issue of life for every one of us as created beings, as human beings is to whom will we give our highest affection our highest allegiance, to whom will we bow down, who will we serve? Romans 1 uncovers the central matter of sin and calls it idolatry. Idolatry is worshipping and serving any created thing, more than the creator. Romans 1:25, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things more than the Creator, who is forever praised. Amen.” That's the great exchange of idolatry, you exchange the truth of God for a lie.
Recently at the 2020 conference at Southeastern Mark Driscoll was talking about this, and he shared an insight that he believed, at least he understands it to be this way, “They exchanged the truth of God for the lie.” It's not just any lie, it’s not just one of many lies. It is the lie and that is that a created thing can take the place of God in your heart and satisfy you, it can be the center of your life.
Mark Driscoll went on to tell a story about a mission trip he made to a remote village in India and as he was there in this remote village, he was becoming increasingly disgusted with the idolatry he saw, in fact, he saw them sacrifice a chicken to some kind of a chicken idol, and there were feathers everywhere, and all that, and he was talking to the wife of one of the pastors there, about his time in India and about different things, and he had already resolved in mind, he'd never go back to India, he was just so turned off by what he saw. This pastor's wife and he were talking and he said, “Have you ever been to America?” She said “Just once, but I'll never go back.” “Well, why not?” “Because of all the idolatry in your country.” He said, “What idolatry? I just got done looking at a chicken god, okay, with feathers everywhere. What idolatry are you talking about?” She said “You Americans worship your stomachs, there are restaurants everywhere. You worship sports, there are huge stadiums filled with thousands of sports fans who are worshipping. You worship entertainment. So all the family rooms have at the center, the most expensive television that you can buy. You worship sex, so the culture is saturated with it. There are actually idols everywhere.”
Wow, what a moment [chuckle], what a moment. Could it be we have a hard time seeing our own idols when we can see other people so clearly we're often blind to it. When a Christian young woman pursues a relationship with a non-Christian guy she's committing idolatry. She's worshipping at the altar of the good feelings that guy can give her. When people commit sexual immorality they're worshipping at the altar of central pleasure; when a man downloads internet pornography he is doing the same. It's idolatry.
When an ambitious professional sacrifices his family so he can become a partner in a law firm or a CEO of Fortune 500 company, or just succeed in some ways, worshipping at the altar of power and worldly success. It's idolatry. When a young mother wraps her whole existence around her children, so that her walk with Christ is neglected, her marriage is neglected, and if one of her children should die, and she's angry at God and comes to doubt him, then her idolatry, has been exposed, she's idolized her children. They're everywhere, these idols are everywhere. It is the great danger of our time here, in the world. Thousands and thousands of other examples of idolatry, where people exchange the truth of God for the lie and worship and serve created things more than the Creator, who's forever praised. We're blind to our own idolatry and so is the rich young ruler. His idol was money and he was unwilling to give it up. And unless he gave it up, he could not be Christ's disciple, and so Christ as a skillful heart surgeon exposes the blockage in his heart.
Christ a Heart Surgeon: Skillfully Exposes the Blockage
The gospel of Mark reveals that Christ for all of his toughness, here actually loved this young man. It says in Mark 10:21, “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” incredible verse. He's moved with compassion for him. I think it's similar to the feelings he had of compassion for the leper who's covered with disgusting effects of his disease and sores and wounds everywhere and Jesus is moved with compassion And touches him. I am willing to heal, this man is just as filthy inside spiritually and yet Jesus is moved with compassion, wants to reach out and touch his heart. And so that's why he gives these striking commands for all of His promises as a seeking future disciple, he cannot follow Jesus with this idol in the center of his heart. It's impossible. He cannot serve both God and money, as he says in Matthew 6.
Overwhelming Commands and an Eternal Promise
He could not accept a so-called convert a man whose heart is still en-wrapped with an idol and so he gives some overwhelming commands and an eternal promise. Look at verse 21, “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Sell everything, give to the poor, follow me. These must have been like hammer blows to his heart. The encounter is not exactly like any other that Jesus has in the gospels, but it's similar to others. For example, as He walked by Peter, John, James, and Andrew by the sea of Galilee, he says, “Come follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men,” and they left at once their boat and their nets and followed him. He walks by Matthew's tax collector booth and he says “Come follow me.” And at once, Matthew gets up from his life as a tax collector and walks away and follows Jesus. He says, actually, to anyone who would follow him, “If anyone who would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It's the same command, it's just a version of it for this particular rich young ruler.
The command to sell everything as much like Christ's marvelous parable, the treasure in the field. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field when a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy, went off and sold everything he had and bought that field.” In his joy, he did that, Sold everything. So he could have the field. The idea is that entering eternal life, entering to heaven of a right relationship with Almighty God through Jesus Christ is worth anything. Anything at all that you need to give up to get it. “Follow me” means to do what I was willing to do. Do what I was willing to do. “For you know the grace of our lord Jesus that though he was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich,” 2 Corinthians 8. “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross.” Jesus, then is the ultimate rich, young ruler, who is willing to give it all up, that he might gain us.
That he might gain a multitude from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, who will worship around the throne And so he gives this man, these amazing commands. Follow me, do what I was willing to do Live the life of self-sacrifice and then he gives them an amazing promise. Sell all your possessions give to the poor. And you will have treasure in heaven, treasure in heaven, The desire for treasure is not evil frankly, actually, the desire, if the treasure is the right one, the desire is absolutely required, it is of the essence of sin that we don't desire the treasure that Jesus has in mind here. Treasure is something of great worth something that attracts the eye that draws in the heart where your treasure is, there your heart will be, that's the treasure. And the treasure, my friends, is God himself.
Genesis 15:1, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Fear not, Abram. I am your shield, I am your very great reward.’” I'm your treasure, I'm what you get. You get me for all eternity, you get me in face-to-face fellowship you get me and perfection, you get me forever. But it goes beyond that. You also get me in some specific ways, in that I'm not unjust and I will not forget anything you've done. And if this man had by faith sold all of his possessions, and they were many, and gave them to the poor to alleviate in some small measure, the suffering of the poor in this life, the Lord would never have forgotten it and he would never let the rich young ruler forget it, to all eternity. I remember what you did well done, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” enter into the joy of your Master. Let's celebrate that one forever.
You'll have treasure in Heaven if you do it, so the treasure in heaven is God's pleasure in our righteous acts done by faith here, not to forgive for the forgiveness of sins, that's impossible, but by faith to the service of God, he'll never forget it. Here in this place, then, we see the opportunity of wealth. Do you see it? You have money, You have it for a little while, use it wisely. Store up treasure in heaven with it, give it away. For the sake of the kingdom, give it away. In difficult economic times, give it away. In abundant economic times, give it away. That's the opportunity of wealth.
The Man’s Sad Reaction
But in the rich young ruler’s response, we see also the peril of wealth. Verse 22, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he had great wealth.” He goes away, he walked away. If this young man is languishing in hell now, oh, what he would give to have this moment back, to do it all over again. He made his choice between two jealous masters, Christ and money, and money won. And what would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? And what would a man give in exchange for his soul? The rich young ruler chose poorly and notice that now he has none of those things. I don't know where he is, but if he's in hell, he's not rich anymore, and he's not young anymore, and he's not a ruler anymore. That was just temporary. And it's interesting, as he walks away, he's sad. Don't you find that amazing? He's getting what he wants, he's making the decision the way he wants, but he's not happy with it. You know why because it's an idol and doesn't satisfy, and he knows it.
But he just can't seem to bring himself to give it up. It doesn't make you happy, you know what makes you happy? God, and God alone, You have created us for yourself, O Lord, and the heart of man is restless until he finds his rest, its peace, its joy, its meaning, in God, in God alone. How unlike the man, and the treasure hidden in the field parable who, for joy, sells everything, How unlike Zacchaeus who gladly stands up at that lunch with Jesus, and says “Look Lord! Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” He is so happy salvation's come to his house. So why is the rich, young ruler sad? Because he knows that he's made a bad choice he just can't seem to stop it.
The Stunning Lesson: Only God Can Save a Rich Man!
And so then Jesus turns and gives His disciples a stunning lesson, that is only God can save a rich man. Jesus declares the danger of wealth. The general assumption of Jesus's Day, is that wealth is a sign of great blessing by God, God has blessed you with this wealth. So also today the health and wealth gospel teaches the same lie. Jesus actually identifies it as a great danger to the soul. Look at verses 23 and 24: “Jesus said, then to His disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’”
Let me just cut to the chase, about the camel in the eye of the needle. It's impossible. I know there are other stories out there, I just wanna say Jesus is citing an example of something that is impossible. It cannot be done. You can spend a long time trying to get that camel through the eye of the needle, but it isn't gonna go and everybody knows it, it's an impossible thing, that's what Jesus is highlighting here, it is actually impossible for a rich man to be saved apart from the work of God.
And the disciples are stunned by it. Look at verse 25: “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked ‘Who then can be saved?’ And Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Every true conversion is a miracle of God's grace. But rich people face special obstacles to entering the Kingdom of Heaven, that's what Jesus is saying here.
More on that in a moment. Let's look at some applications, and all I wanna do is just take a few of the phrases from this text and apply them.
“No one is good but God alone…”
First, the phrase “No one is good but God alone.” Meditate much both on the goodness of God and the wickedness and the evil of man. Understand what Jesus is saying here. Do not make much of your own righteousness, meditate rather on the perverseness of sin and the pervasiveness of sin in your life. Understand that the doctrine of the total depravity of man, is foundational to the need that people have for Christ. People are not essentially basically good and they just need a little help, no they need Christ And worship the God who is good; swim in the ocean of His goodness. I often think of God as somebody who's ready to whack me every time I do something, Have you ever thought that way? That God's up there and he's just trying to get us. I always wait for the other shoe to drop. I've had a blessed life. I keep waiting for the curse to come, alright.
God is good. If there is any whack coming in my life, it's because I need it and there's some sin in my life and he needs to deal with me but he's immensely loving. We should meditate on how wide, and long, and high, and deep is the love and the goodness of God and swim in that ocean and forget your own goodness. Jesus has already commented on that.
“If you wish to enter life…”
Secondly, “If you wish to enter life,” Jesus said. Do you want to enter life? Are you lost? Do you have idols in your heart and you know you have never come to Christ? Trust in him, flee to Christ. Leave your idols behind, and if he tells you to do something hard, then do it. Trust in him and His righteousness and His death on the cross for your salvation. I worry about idolatry, I worry about idolatry in the church, I worry about it in this church, I worry about it in my own heart. Is it possible that many rich, young rulers, have entered American evangelical churches never having been stripped of their idols? And they were assured by people who graduated from those evangelism schools that they have been saved and that they're fine now, and they're going through life never having come face-to-face with the covetousness and greed in their own hearts? Examine yourselves to see if you're in the faith. Test yourselves, see if there are any idols in your heart, and ask God to free you from them.
“Sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…”
Thirdly, Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor and you'll have treasure in heaven.” We all know that this is not a universal commandment. He said to Zacchaeus, who offered only to sell half his possessions, “Salvation's come to this house.” It's not the same for everyone, but this much is the case: Jesus will have no rivals, and if he's going to be your Lord, He must be Lord of all. And we must understand that there are poor people out there that are suffering, there are poor Christians that are going through persecution and hunger and suffering. And the Lord has, in some way, blessed the American evangelical church, with an abundance of wealth that we might be generous to others, even in times of economic stricture. And if we are, we will never lose our treasure in heaven.
“It is hard for a rich man to be saved…”
Fourthly, “it is hard for a rich man to be saved.” Paul said, “Command those who are rich to be generous and not put their trust in wealth which is so fleeting. People who want to get rich fall into temptation, in a trap and many foolish and harmful desires, that plunge men into all kinds of ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” So Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” It's hard for a rich man to be saved and we are rich men. So it's hard for us to be saved.
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible...”
But finally “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Focus then, on the sovereign power of God to save a sinner like you and me focus on that. When you go out to evangelize, can I urge you, please, to consider carefully, your involvement in the health fair outreach next Saturday? The health fair isn't next Saturday, the outreach, we're going out to invite people to come to the health fair. It's a ministry in and of itself.
If the people never come to the health fair, it's okay as long as they come to Jesus, that's not a bad thing, you know that don't you? If they come to Jesus and come to faith in Christ and never come to the health fair, I'm sure the doctors in our church will be totally okay with that and the dentists too. But we have an opportunity to go out in a good cause, in a way that gets us easily into conversations with people right around this church and talk to them about Christ. Won't you come? That's next Saturday afternoon and Sunday after church, either one of those days. But as you go out, keep this in mind, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” God has His people in this community. We can go out and find them.
But as we do, let's leave the results to God, and when you pray, keep this in mind, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Don't trust in yourself, your prayers, your own righteousness or any human thing, but trust in God, who can do incredible things.
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the time we've had to study the case of this rich, young ruler and all that he means to us. Lord, he is a warning to us. Father, I ask that you would please give us repentance, help us to see the idols in our hearts, help us to know when some created thing has shouldered you out of the center of our lives and has edged you out of the uppermost place of affection in our hearts. Help us to love you above all things, help us to be open-handed and generous to the poor and needy. I pray that there'd be a river of generosity and benevolence flowing from this church to this community and to the ends of the earth. Through mission, support of missions, through benevolent works done here to the poor and needy, even in this, in our own congregation. Please do it, we pray for your sake, in your glory. Amen.